I spent the afternoon meeting up with Guillhem Soulignac, one of the partners in the Riberach Cave, Hotel and Restaurant project in the town of Belesta high in the Roussillion Valley. It's an ambitious project, taking an old cooperative, turning it into a hotel, a working winery and a very neat cave (wine shop) that sells not only the wines from Riberach, but also from leading producers in the area. There red wines are wonderful, smooth, long and elegant, while the whites show off what the area is capable of. None of the wines are "pushed" so far to make them astringent or fat, instead there's a finese and fresh quality to them.
Guilhem and I spent about an hour going through the various wines of Riberach, including their stunning rose made from Carignan and then went into the cave to blend. Getting to play wine blender is always fun and I ended up making a wine of Carignan (50 percent), Grenache (33 percent) and Syrah (17 percent) from the 2009 vintage. We also made up one of 50 percent Grenache but the wine ended up far too astringent. A third was made where we increased the Syrah component pushing down the other two fairly equally, but while it made the wine more approachable now, it likely would have the aging of the Carignan (50 percent), Grenache (33 percent) and Syrah (17 percent).
One other note, the vines at Riberach are old, some passing 100 years of age. They are all grown organically, but there is some clearing of the vineyard of grass and overgrown brush. This year the buds are full and look very juicy already, so if the weather cooperates, Riberach may have an exceptional year.
As for the hotel, nothing has been spared. The ecologically friendly hotel has stone floors inside the old vats. Walls are adorned by flat screen TVs, the beds are fimr, and the junior suite offers a second room for working, along with a delightful terrace. The food in the restaurant is quite good and creative, with as you would expect a very well chosen wine list and spot on service.
As winery stays and hotels go, Riberach is about tops in my book, as their wines make it only even better.